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Movie Review

Little Danny Torrance survived his winter at the Overlook. But let’s face it: Any time your pops tries to murder you in a haunted hotel with an axe, it’s gonna leave a mark.

For years, it seemed like Danny would finish what the Overlook Hotel had started: That is, to finish himself off. After his mother died, Danny lost himself in an avalanche of booze and drugs and barfights, apparently determined to bring himself and his mysterious “shining”—the extrasensory abilities he was both blessed and cursed with—to an ignominious, messy end.

But through luck or fate or divine providence, Danny goes to New Hampshire instead and settles in a small town there, where he’s befriended by a kindly guy named Billy. He gives Danny a job and starts dragging him along to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Eight years later, Danny’s still sober and putting his shining to good use. Working as an orderly at a local hospice, he gently reassures those straddling this world and the next that death isn’t something to fear. And so the dying in his care fade away, sometimes smiling as they go.

But outside the hospice walls, not everyone’s passing is so peaceful. Especially not for the children who fall into the clutches of Rose the Hat.

Rose and her crew aren’t quite human these days. They feed on the shining, what they call steam. They breathe it in like opium. And they—especially Rose—can sense it, across hill and valley and area code. They’re drawn to the steam like sharks to blood. And to get the former, they must spill the latter. No victim survives Rose’s brutal buffet.

But folks with steam seem to be fewer than they used to be these days. Rose and her ilk aren’t eating as well. And the need to find new prey grows more acute.

One night, as Rose and her posse carve up a 9-year-old Little Leaguer, Rose senses a presence—a “looker,” she calls her. She can’t see the looker clearly, but she can feel the steam inside her, steam that goes beyond anything Rose remembers. Bottle that steam up, and there’s no telling how long it’d last.

But the looker—Abra’s her name—has also been communicating with Danny, writing on a chalkboard. And when Abra sees/senses/feels the Little Leaguer scream his last, she sends Danny a one-word message.

REDRUM.

Positive Elements

At first, Danny really doesn’t want to get involved. The shining, as he’s learned from personal experience, can be quite the burden—especially if folks are trying to kill you because of it. He initially advises Abra to keep her head down, not to get involved and to pray that the boy’s killers don’t find her, too.

But Abra’s not one to let a horrific deed go unpunished. Ultimately, she, Danny and Billy challenge Rose, even though it means great personal risk.

We should give Danny props, of course, for turning his life around. He spent eight quiet, sober years in New Hampshire, humbly working for his keep and steadfastly rejecting the temptation to drink. Addictions aren’t easy to kick: That he did so effectively deserves a tip of the cap.

But Danny might still be in the gutter somewhere if it hadn’t been for Billy. He took this scruffy, no-account stranger in and almost single-handedly put him on a better course. He not only gave Danny a job but paid for his first two months rent. He not only took him to AA meetings, but sponsored him, too. Eight years later, Billy and Danny are still the best of buds. And when Danny asks for his help in an outlandish, extraordinarily dangerous venture—one involving psychic abilities, a 13-year-old girl and a murder halfway across the country—a doubting Billy still agrees to help.

Spiritual Content

The abilities in play here straddle the line between physical and spiritual: The “shining” certainly can look like magic (and Abra refers to it as such), but in the context of the story, they’re abilities you’re born with—the psychic equivalent of being born with double-jointed elbows or, perhaps, a particularly keen mind. Abra can levitate spoons to the kitchen ceiling, project part of her being across space and create illusions at will. Others can brainwash people into doing exactly what they’re asked to do. Admittedly, Rose does often look like she’s meditating to send herself on astral journeys. But these abilities are not conjured up via devotion to some dark force. They simply are.

But these abilities—especially where Danny’s are concerned—take us to an explicitly spiritual domain: life after death.

As a hospice orderly, he tells dying patients that they have nothing to fear: It’s simply like going to sleep. And when one expresses fear that on the other side there’s simply nothing, Danny reassures him that’s not the case.

“We don’t end, Charlie,” he says. “I don’t know much else for certain, but I that much I know.”

And yep, he sure knows it. He receives visits Dick Hallorann, who died helping Danny when he was a boy. He’s haunted by the old specters of the Overland Hotel, and he learns how to lock their malignant spirits in psychic boxes. He sees dead people, and all too frequently sometimes.

But while Danny’s sure the afterlife exists, that belief doesn’t seem predicated on a belief in a loving, caring God. And while the movie suggests that faith is important and demonstrates a certain affinity for Christianity (we hear the Serenity Prayer during an AA meeting and Billy sports a cross tattoo on his neck), Danny’s own religious beliefs seem unformed.

“Do you believe in something?” The AA leader, a doctor and apparent Christian, asks Danny. “Something better than you?”

“Our beliefs don’t make us better people,” Danny says haltingly. “Our actions make us better people.”

Sexual Content

In 2011, when Danny was very much under the spell of the bottle, he has a frenetic one-night stand with a woman he meets at a bar. We see them kiss and make out. The next morning, he wakes up and finds her in bed with him, naked and apparently passed out. (Her body’s uncovered, though positioned in such a way as to obscure any frontal nudity.)

When Danny and Abra start working together, the movie draws attention to their relationship. Though it’s completely platonic (Abra calls the guy “Uncle Danny”), Danny is clearly discomfited when they first meet in person—telling Abra that these days, a grown man talking with a 13-year-old girl is bound to draw suspicion. When Abra tells her father about her partnership with Danny, her dad jumps to the conclusion that Danny has some serious ill-intent. “She’s 13 years old!” He shouts at Danny, getting ready to both punch him in the face and call the cops.

Rose drafts a new member into her posse—a 15-year-old girl named Andi who has a particular “shine” she can use. Before the initiation, Rose and a guy named Crow Daddy watch her work in a movie theater, where she meets a much-older man for a movie and, it’s suggested, sex afterward. Andi has the ability to hypnotize people instantly, though, and she forces her “date” to fall into a deep sleep. She carves into the man’s cheek with a small knife, leaving a telltale scar that’ll remind he and everyone else he comes in contact with—his wife, his family, etc.—of his prediliction for “little girls.”

Rose marvels at Andi’s youth, telling her that gravity hasn’t even noticed her yet—and offers her the chance to stay 15 for decades.

When Rose’s crew inhale the steam, it seems to foster a lustful reaction in some: Couples react sensually and sexually as they breathe in. Several characters make appreciative comments about how they and others look, sometimes leering a bit as they do.

One of the old Overlook ghosts that haunts Danny is an old, naked crone who always appears in the bathtub. We see pretty much every bit of her—though obviously, in her state of decay, her nakedness is not meant to titilate.

Violent Content

Rose and her commune prefer the steam that comes from children—untainted by the world around them. They get that steam not just through murder, but through torture: She explains to one of her young victims that the steam is “purified” through pain and terror.

We don’t directly witness Rose cut and stab the 9-year-old baseball player; we don’t see the knife hit home. But we do watch his face as he screams in terror and agony; we do see his own blood spatter across his face and neck. It’s an excruciating scene, as sadistic as I’ve seen on film in some time. Later, we see bits of the body in a shallow grave, most of him covered in dirt: His shoe, his fingers, part of his face are visible in the soil.

Rose kills a little girl, too. And while the murder takes place offscreen, we see her clench the wrist of the terrified girl in her hand, blood dripping from new wounds.

Several stored cannisters of steam remind us how often Rose and others have killed for their fix. And she reminds the oldest in their crew that he’s sucked the steam from the time of ancient Rome, from “kings, princes, popes.”

But when these steam-suckers die, they don’t go quietly. The body convulses and the person screams, frenetically aging and decaying in seconds—eventually disappearing in steam of his or her own. Rose and others sometimes inhale that steam, an act that feels, in context, like an act of cannibalism.

Danny beats and nearly kills a guy with a billiard ball. We see the fight and subsequent beatdown in graphic detail. Someone shoots himself in the head. Another man receives a lethal blow to the chest. A guy flies through a van window when it crashes into a tree: He does not survive. A shootout leads to the death of several people. Someone gets shot in the leg and, during a later fight, the person’s assailant sticks a finger into the open wound (causing, as you might imagine, a great deal of pain).

A psychic filing cabinet slams down on a hand, causing bloody, real-world pain and damage. People are blown back psychically. A grocery store door explodes in a spray of glass. A fire engulfs a building and everyone inside. Someone is chased by a man with an ax. A person is attacked by evil spirits—their fingers digging under the victim’s skin. People are choked. Danny sees corpse-like ghosts, including one of an infant. Blood floods a hallway. As mentioned, Andi slices into a guy’s cheek.

Crude or Profane Language

About a dozen f-words and four s-words. We also hear “a--,” “b--ch,” “d--n” and “h---.” God’s name is misused at least four times, while Jesus’ name is abused once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Danny’s alcoholism, and that of his father, are both important elements in the story. When Danny receives a chip at AA for celebrating eight years of sobriety, he dedicates it to his dad, whose alcoholism helped destroy him. Danny said he knew that part of his father always wanted to be standing right where Danny is—celebrating his own sobriety.

[Spoiler Warning] But the draw of the bottle never vanishes completely. Danny’s tempted a couple of times, even going so far as to take a bottle of whisky and to put the lip of the bottle to his mouth. Instead, he throws the bottle down, shattering it. And when ghostly entities encourage him to drink, he refuses them, too.

We do see a pre-AA Danny seriously in the throes of alcoholism; he’s drunk and pitiful. (He and his one-night paramour use cocaine, as well.) There’s nothing romantic or idealized about drinking here, even if Abra’s dad does pour himself a couple of glasses of whisky when he realizes the extent of Abra’s abilities and the danger that she’s facing. (He offers one to Danny, who refuses.)

As mentioned above, steam is treated almost like a drug, too. The people who consume it need their fix. And when they breathe it in, they go into an almost orgiastic-like state, akin to the reaction we see (in film) to a shot of morphine or the use of opium.

Other Negative Elements

Danny, under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, vomits noisily in a bathroom. (We see dried vomit next to his unconscious girlfriend, too, though whether it’s his or hers we don’t know.) He nearly steals all the girl’s money before a kindly voice tells him not to. But when he notices that the girl has a baby, he simply picks up the infant and puts it beside the woman. Danny’s given reason to believe that the woman actually died in that bed, and the helpless infant eventually died with her. (A corpse-like ghost of the woman seems to visit Danny, telling him, “they still haven’t found us.”)

Conclusion

Published in 1977, The Shining was one of Stephen King’s most successful early novels. In 1980, director Stanley Kubrick took the book, tossed in his own creepy visual aesthetic and created what fright-flick aficionados consider to be one of the scariest horror movies ever made—even though King himself famously hated it.

This cinematic sequel seems to be more a coda to Kubrick’s movie than King’s book. It lovingly recrafts Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel prop by prop, piece by piece, and either pays homage or recreates (as best it can) some of the movie’s most famous scenes.

That said, Doctor Sleep’s DNA feels all Stephen King.

I’ve not read King’s Doctor Sleep, but the film sports all the core elements that King loves: plucky kids, crippling addictions, oddly spiritual feints, a climactic showdown between good and evil and a rather disappointing ending.

And, of course, you’ve got the blood. And the pain. And the death. And the swearing.

With a few exceptions, King does not write for a PG-13 audience. The movies based on his work are commensurately problematic. Doctor Sleep doesn’t just want to scare you: It wants to shock and even sicken you. This film takes a ghost story and imbues it with a half-twist of sadism, moving it from simply horrific to sadly horrible.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance; Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat; Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone; Emily Alyn Lind as Snakebite Andi; Cliff Curtis as Billy Freeman; Zahn McClarnon as Crow Daddy; Carel Struycken as Grampa Flick; Alex Essoe as Wendy Torrance

Director

Mike Flanagan ( )

Distributor

Warner Bros.

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

November 8, 2019

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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